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Delaware unemployment claims top 100K as filings slow

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WILMINGTON – Delaware broke a dramatic threshold last week when unemployment claims during the COVID-19 pandemic topped 100,000 despite recording the fewest number of weekly claims to date, state officials reported Thursday.

Filings in the week of May 17-23 ended a one-week rise in claim totals, with the 4,651 claims being the fewest recorded in a single week since the pandemic began. It was enough to push the total claims to 100,475, however, according to the Delaware Department of Labor.

COURTESY OF DOL

Unemployment claims over the past few months have surpassed the total of the last three years’ claims combined but is not representative of how many workers are unemployed permanently, as employers statewide use temporary furloughs to cut expenses.

The data shows that roughly 21% of the state’s workforce has filed an unemployment claim in the crisis, although some of those claims were denied; some of the workers have returned to their jobs after furloughs; and others have likely went back to work full-time this month as the state lifted some restrictions on businesses.

As of last week, 60,479 workers are receiving unemployment insurance payments from the state, a decrease of about 400 from the prior week. It’s the first drop in continuous claims in about two months.

The insured unemployed data represents a state unemployment rate of 13%. That is slightly lower than Delaware’s official April unemployment rate of 14.3% – a modern record surpassed only by estimates from the Great Depression.

Earlier in May, state labor officials reported that more than 14,000 claims from newly eligible self-employed workers and independent contractors, made possible by the federal CARES Act, had been submitted through a new state processing system that began making payments May 16.

Despite federal unemployment aid being extended to them in March, such workers, who don’t pay into the state’s unemployment trust fund to be insured against job losses, hadn’t been able to tap into relief funds because of a lack of a state system to verify their incomes. Those workers are now eligible for payments ranging from $733 to $1,000 per week, depending on proof of income documentation.

Last week, Darryl Scott, director of the Delaware Division of Unemployment Insurance, told state lawmakers that approximately 1,000 of the 5,584 claims filed were so-called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) claims made through that system. More are expected to file through the PUA system, which could keep initial claims coming even as more assistance recipients drop off the continuous total to return to work under Gov. John Carney’s Phase I reopening plan beginning June 1.

The historically high wave of assistance seekers has overwhelmed the manpower of the department and required federal stimulus funds to bolster the depleted state Unemployment Trust Fund, which has paid out nearly $282 million in claims from March 15 to May 23. A historic weekly high for payments has been about $3 million, but last week saw payment of about $47.2 million.

The state’s trust fund has seen an infusion of more than $142 million from the federal government, while the state has paid out almost $105.5 million through the crisis. State officials have said that they expect to use a large chunk of the $1.25 billion allocation to Delaware under the CARES Act to bolster the Unemployment Trust Fund.

By Jacob Owens

[email protected]

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